Do I Need a Lawyer if I am Arrested for Driving Drunk?

If you are placed under arrest on the suspicion of driving drunk, you may think your life is over. While drunk driving charges can be serious, it is not the end of the world as you know it. 

It is imperative that you know your rights when you are stopped by a police officer on suspicion of drunk driving, during an investigation into drunk driving, and after an arrest for drunk driving. It is also important to understand both the criminal and civil consequences of a drunk driving arrest. 

A conviction for drunk driving can lead to serious consequences, but immediately seeking the advice of an attorney will help alleviate the stress and may lead to a better outcome.

The Stop

Both the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Michigan’s Constitution protect you from unreasonable searches and seizures. That means that a police officer must have a valid reason in order to initiate a traffic stop. Michigan law authorizes a police officer to stop a vehicle, detain the driver, and issue a citation if the officer witnesses a traffic violation. If a police officer does not witness a traffic violation, however, they must have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to initiate a traffic stop. 

If a police officer cannot show a valid reason to initiate a traffic stop, an experienced attorney may be able to invoke the Fourth Amendment, file a motion to suppress evidence obtained after the police violated the Constitution, and get any resulting charges dismissed. 

The Investigation

If a police officer effectuates a lawful traffic stop, they will require that you display a valid driver’s license, proof of insurance, and proof of registration. After you display that information, you are not under any obligation to answer any additional questions posed by the officer during the stop. For example, if an officer asks if you had any alcohol to drink prior to driving, you can and should decline to answer. You should politely say something like, "I will not answer any other questions without my attorney present."

If, during the traffic stop, the police officer suspects that you were operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol, they may ask you to perform a preliminary breath test (PBT) or field sobriety tests (FSTs). While there is no legal requirement to perform FSTs, there are minor consequences for refusing a PBT. If you do not submit to a PBT, it may result in a civil infraction and fines.

The Arrest

Even if you decline to perform a PBT or FSTs, a police officer can still place you under arrest if they believe that you were operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol. A police officer needs probable cause for a valid arrest. Probable cause looks at probabilities, not certainties, and the officer only needs a reasonable belief that a person was operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol to validate an arrest. 

If you are placed under arrest on suspicion of drunk driving, Michigan law requires that you submit to a chemical test. Under Michigan’s Implied Consent Law, every individual who operates a vehicle on a Michigan road is considered to have given consent to a chemical test of their breath, blood, or urine after being arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. If you decline to submit to a chemical test after an arrest, it may lead to a suspension of your driver’s license for one year. 

After the Arrest

In most cases, you will be released from the jail within a few hours of your arrest. The arresting officer will conduct the intake process, you will be required to submit to a chemical test, and you will be placed in a holding cell until your blood alcohol level returns to zero. In some cases, the arresting police department will require you to post bond before they release you. 

When to Contact an Attorney

After your release, and as soon as possible, you should contact an attorney. Your attorney will guide you through the process of defending against a drunk driving charge. The sooner you contact an attorney, the sooner they can advocate for your defense. This is especially true if you declined to submit to a chemical test, as your license will automatically be suspended if you do not request a hearing through the Secretary of State within 14-days. 

At The Head Law Firm, PLC, our attorneys are experienced in defending against drunk driving charges. Our knowledge and expertise have helped hundreds of our clients in both criminal actions and suspended driver’s license proceedings. Our attorneys are committed to providing clients with quality representation and zealous advocacy throughout the entire process.

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